It's 5:00 pm, and junior has to be at basket ball practice, while your little princess has ballerina class immediately after. What do you do? Do a quick McDonald's run? That is the answer many Americans are giving today and unfortunately for our children, it is not always the best answer.
There have been many studies done on preserving the family dinner. Two benefits that appear to be agreed on are that it provides better nutrition for your kids and they do better in school both academically and socially. Many studies site other benefits such as less stress in children, better family relationships, and a time to "check-in" on teenagers.
I became interested in this ritual when one evening I sat my two children at the table for dinner without me and my husband. He was working late and I thought they would be hungry. My 5 year old refused to eat and said he couldn't eat until everyone was eating dinner. It dawned on me that this ritual was such an important part of his day. A time when mom and dad were sitting down and listening. A time when he could crack jokes and have an audience. It was stability and familiar to him so how dare I try to take that away?
When I think back to my own childhood, I have memories of my brother throwing peas at me during our family dinner and my dad telling me to eat my salad. Although I didn't really value that time back then, in reflection, it had a profound effect on my childhood. I was never in trouble, I chose friends that also had family dinner times, and our parents always knew where we were for dinner and clean up afterward.
Unfortunately today, many parents feel they must sacrafice this important time so that their child can achieve their highest potential. I would like to argue just the opposite. This family dinner, whether it be gormet lasagna or leftovers, is treasured by our children, needed by our families and the foundation of stability in a family. This meal can occur at any time of the day. If it has to be 8pm, isn't that better than McDonalds?